We’ve such a golden dream
Such a golden dream can never last
My burden lifted
I am free
After an encounter in middle school led to friendship developing between Nozomi Kasaki and Mizore Yoroizuka, the two joined Kitauji High School’s Concert Band. Energetic and outgoing, Nozomi plays the flute while the reserved, taciturn Mizore plays the oboe. When the concert band picks Liz and the Blue Bird as a piece, Mizore and Nozomi are selected to perform the suite’s solo. At the same time, Nozomi and Mizore are forced to consider their futures; Mizore is recommended a music school, and Nozomi decides to follow her, but realises that her skill with the flute is not comparable to Mizore’s oboe. Meanwhile, Mizore envies Nozomi for being able to connect with others so easily, and at the same time, longs to be closer to Nozomi. After a conversation with Reina, Mizore performs the solo with her fullest effort, bringing some of the concert band’s members to tears. The two share a heartfelt conversation after, promising to remain friends even if their paths diverge in the future. Liz and the Blue Bird premièred in April 2018, focusing on secondary characters; the choice to tell a deeper story about the friendship between Nozomi and Mizore is motivated by the impact they had on Kitauji’s concert band in the events prior to the start of Hibike! Euphonium; the driven and determined Nozomi spearheaded an exodus after realising that Kitauji’s band was a raggedy-ass group disinterested in competing seriously. Mizore ended up staying behind, and Nozomi’s return during the events of Hibike! Euphonium 2 formed the basis for the conflict during its first half. The depth behind each of the characters in Hibike! Euphonium meant that a myriad of stories about concert band’s members could be told, and on first glance, the story between Nozomi and Mizore is one of interest, dealing with two polar opposite personality types, their friendship and how the two each deal with thoughts of parting ways in the future.
Liz and the Blue Bird‘s primary themes is a familiar one – deliberately chosen for the characters’ involvement in Kitauji’s incident, it shows the extent of Nozomi and Mizore’s friendship. Having long admired Mizore’s skill with the oboe, Nozomi’s charisma and fiery personality has a major impact on the band, but it now appears that she went to these lengths to give Mizore a chance to shine. Liz and the Blue Bird thus explores the difficulty both encounter as their time in high school comes to an end. The film is so named after the færie tale that frames the narrative: a girl named Liz finds a bluebird who transforms into a girl. As they get to know one another, Liz comes to enjoy her time with the bluebird. However, when Liz finds that the bluebird periodically sneaks out to fly at night, she realises that she cannot keep the bluebird forever and lets her go to rejoin her winged companions. It is a tale of parting, with both Mizore and Nozomi realising that they’re struggling to part with one another. In the end, though, it is precisely by letting go that allows the blue bird to reach her full potential; Nozomi must learn to let go of Mizore so she can pursue her career in music, and Mizore must let go of Nozomi so she can continue to direct her unparalleled passion and energy towards leading others. Liz and the Blue Bird proceeds as one would expect: by the film’s end, Nozomi and Mizore find their solutions, accepting that they will one day part ways, but this does not preclude their continued friendship.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Liz and the Blue Bird‘s segments with Liz feel distinctly like a watercolour brought to life, attesting to the sophistication of animation. By bringing sound and motion to such scenes, it is possible to really capture a particular aesthetic. The story of Liz and the Blue Bird is a fictional one, being written specifically for Liz and the Blue Bird; I could not find any reference to the story outside of the context of Hibike! Euphonium, even when doing a search for its German name (Liz und ein Blauer Vogel).
- Unlike Hibike! Euphonium, which is vivid, rich in colours and bursting with life, Liz and the Blue Bird is much more subdued and gentle with its hues. Differences in the animation style are apparent; Liz and the Blue Bird tends to focus on subtle, seemingly trivial details, whether it be the bounce in Nozomi’s ponytail, the girls shifting their chairs together or assembling their instruments. Small moments are lovingly rendered, and while not of thematic significance, shows that Hibike! Euphonium is intended to convey a very human story in that no journey or experience is too trivial for consideration.
- Old characters make a return in Liz and the Blue Bird; Kumiko, Reina, Midori, Hazuki, Natsuki and Yūko appear as secondary characters. The flatter art style means that everyone looks different from their usual selves, and this reduction in detail has the very deliberate and calculated effect of forcing the viewer to focus on what’s happening to the characters. While the characters do not stick out unreasonably from their environments, their motions and voices immediately draw the viewer’s attention to them.
- I would imagine there is another reason to utilise a more subdued palette: because Liz’s story is rendered with watercolours, an inherently soft and gentle medium, had Liz and the Blue Bird stuck with the style seen in the series proper, the contrast would’ve been too jarring. Hibike! Euphonium is vivid to convey that music is immensely colourful, and Kumiko’s performances have always been very spirited as Kitauji strove to further their performances.
- The short of the færie tale is that a young woman encounters a girl with blue hair following a strong storm and takes her in. Over time, the two become close as friends and live their days together happily. However, the blue bird’s nature means that she occasionally sneaks out at night to stretch her wings. Liz notices this and begins to realise that the blue bird longs to fly again. In this context, the bird is taken to represent freedom, and in particular, blue birds have traditionally been regarded as harbingers of happiness and joy.
- The blue bird in Liz and the Blue Bird, then, suggests to viewers that happiness is found in freedom, and applying this to Nozomi and Mizore, the girls cannot be said to reach or discover their full potential unless they have the freedom to do so. Nozomi and Mizore both see themselves in the story; while Mizore actively wishes her eventual parting with Nozomi will never come, Nozomi puts on a brave front and expresses a desire to perform the piece, hiding her own doubts behind a veneer of confidence.
- I’m sure that numerous of my readers will have their own memories of picture books from their childhood that stand out. When I was a primary student, I predominantly read science books, and at the age of six, I knew about all of the planets and their compositions. I have a particular fondness for non-fiction and so, did not read very many picture books. However, I do recall greatly enjoying The Berenstain Bears, as well as David Bouchard’s If You’re Not From The Prairie, a beautiful book about things only those living in the grasslands of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba might appreciate.
- The sharp contrasts between Nozomi and Mizore are immediately apparent; people flock to Nozomi and her energy, and here, she befriends fellow fluatists, connecting with them and becoming a part of their energy. I’ve always found the pronunciation to be a little strange (“flaut-ist”, IPA: flaǔtist), having heard about it while listening to a radio programme about flutes following a concert band practise during my time as a middle school student. It may surprise readers to know that once upon a time, I was a clarinet player and also performed for my school’s jazz band.
- As a part of the old concert band at my middle school, we went on to perform well in several competitions around the city. The jazz band was strictly an in-school activity, and I learned trumpet on my own to give that a go. After entering high school, I stopped with music, but I have no regrets about both performing in a band, and then choosing to explore other avenues. Here, on the left-hand side, we have Ririka Kenzaki, a new addition to Hibike! Euphonium. She’s a first year oboist who is voiced by Shiori Sugiura and does her best to befriend Mizore, stating that it’d be good for section cohesion if everyone got to know one another a little better.
- Every event in Liz and the Blue Bird parallels the events Mizore and Nozomi have experienced: the time Liz and Blue Bird spend together are moments of bliss during which both Liz and Blue Bird are living in the moment. However, all things eventually come to an end, with the færie tale foreshadowing Blue Bird’s longing to soar in the skies again, and how this mirrors Nozomi and Mizore’s situations.
- Mizore’s shyness is her weak point; at several points in Liz and the Blue Bird, Mizore expresses a desire to be physically closer to Nozomi. For much of the movie, circumstance prevents anything from happening. I’ve received numerous complaints about my lack of focus on yuri in my discussions. In general, my counter-arguments are that making the distinction between close friendship and yuri does not alter the conclusion that I reach: in the case of Liz and the Blue Bird, whether or not I chose to count Nozomi and Mizore’s as yuri, the theme invariably is that separation is a real concern for the two, but that they manage to move past it.
- With almost three quarters of a year having elapsed since Liz and the Blue Bird premièred in theatres, it is unsurprising that discussion about the movie has been very limited of late. As is the case for every anime movie, folks with the time, resources and commitment would’ve watched this movie as it screened in Japan. In a rare turn of events, I agree with most early reviews of the film; these reviews citing the film’s imagery and message as its strengths, and its pacing and outcomes as being weaker.
- However, an old nemesis appeared amidst the discussions: Verso Sciolto, who’d previously plagued the Your Name discussions, arrived and claimed that folklore and fairytale references were essential to appreciating both Liz and the Blue Bird as well as Hibike! Euphonium, believing that symbolism in the film will “inspire people to re-watch and re-examine the two seasons of the TV series as well”. The correct answer is that if people choose to revisit Hibike! Euphonium, it will be to see the character dynamics, rather than any non-existent literary symbols Verso Sciolto has fabricated.
- Verso Sciolto goes on to claim that “Ishihara embellishes whereas Yamada distills” in comparing Hibike! Euphonium‘s TV series with Liz and the Blue Bird, and that the latter is an example of minimalism. Both are wrong: Hibike! Euphonium is richer in detail because the details and colours serve to reinforce the idea that music is more than the sum of its parts. It is unfair to grossly reduce a director’s style into one word. I noted earlier that Liz and the Blue Bird deliberately takes its style so it can more seamlessly transition between Nozomi and Mizore’s stories and that of Liz and the Blue Bird.
- It is of some comfort, then, that this Verso Sciolto has been banned from a variety of avenues for discussion for forcibly injecting psuedointellectual remarks, pointed questions and a know-it-all attitude into discussions wherever they went. While having some influence on discussions, especially surrounding Your Name, their absence will be welcomed, especially now that Makoto Shinkai has announced that his next work, Tenki no Ko (Weathering with You), will hit theatres in Japan on July 19 this year.
- Over the course of Liz and the Blue Bird, Ririka’s persistent but gentle efforts to befriend Mizore yields results when Mizore consents to help her prepare reeds. Ririka’s personality blends a kind and gentle nature with innocence, and it was rewarding to see the beginnings of a friendship form as she spearheads the effort to create more cohesion among the double-reed instruments.
- Back in Liz and the Blue Bird, tensions begin growing between Mizore and Nozomi when Mizore mentions that she plans to go to music school. Lacking any idea of what to do with her future, Niiyama sensei suggests that Mizore apply for music school owing to her skill with the oboe. Mizore is the sort of individual who seems uncertain of her future, but when she applies herself towards making her dreams a reality, she does so with her full efforts. After joining concert band in middle school on Nozomi’s suggestion, Mizore put her all into playing the oboe to keep from being separated from Nozomi.
- After Reina arrives and bluntly remarks that Mizore seems to be holding back, Yūko, Natsuki and Nozomi see Reina and Kumiko performing the solo with their respective instruments. Noting the emotional intensity but also the balance between the two, Nozomi realises the strength of Kumiko and Reina’s friendship as well as their musical prowess. The precise relationship between Reina and Kumiko was the subject of no small debate when Hibike! Euphonium aired: this particular aspect of Hibike! Euphonium seems to overshadow everything else, even though the point of the anime was to see a raggedy-ass group come together and realise a shared dream.
- While my school days are long behind me, I still vividly recall all of the instructors who helped inspire and encourage me: at each level, there are a handful of mentors and instructors who stood apart from the rest, and it is thanks to them that I ended up making the most of each choice that I took. Whether it be offering new ways to think about problems, or providing words of encouragement, their contributions helped make me who I am, and to this day, I am still in contact with some of my old mentors.
- Nothing is truly infinite; in Liz and the Blue Bird, separation soon comes up, as well. When the time comes for Blue Bird to leave Liz, it is a difficult moment. A quote whose source has been difficult to pin down states that one must let go of something if they love it; its return heralds that things were meant to be. It seems counterintuitive, but in Cantonese, there’s a concept called 緣份 (jyutping jyun4 fan6, “fate”), that supposes that if something was meant to be, then it will show up in one way or another.
- I disagree that Liz and the Blue Bird is a minimalist film from a visual and thematic perspective; numerous closeup of everyday objects are presented to show that despite the simpler artwork, elements are nonetheless present in the environment. They form a bit of a visual break, causing the eye to pause for a moment while one continues listening to the dialogue. Liz and the Blue Bird is simple, but not minimalist: simplicity is something easy to understand and natural, while minimalism is a deliberate design choice that aims to do more with less. Simplicity is not equivalent to minimalism, and in Liz and the Blue Bird, the anime is not doing more with less, but rather, being very precise about what its intents are.
- While Mizore speaks to instructor Niiyama, Nozomi speaks with Yūko and Natsuki: both come to the realisation that they must learn to let the other go in this dialogue, for holding into the other is to deny them of exploring the future. This is the turning point in the film where the tension rises: for Mizore, she decides to be truthful with her feelings, while Nozomi is a bit more stubborn. I admit that Nozomi is my favourite character of Hibike! Euphonium – for her fiery spirit and figure.
- In the færie tale, Liz eventually ends up allowing Blue Bird to take flight and join her fellow birds in the sky. Cages form a part of the symbolism in Liz and the Blue Bird: representing security in the present and also constraining the future, Mizore expresses a wish that she’d never learned to open the cage. This imagery is mirrored in Aimer’s “Cage”, a beautiful song that was used during the unveiling of the life-sized Unicorn Gundam at Diver City in Odaiba.
- We’re now a ways into 2019, and the year’s already been quite busy as I acclimatised to a new workplace. I wake up much earlier than I did before to make the bus ride downtown, and while I greatly enjoy what I do, I admit that weekends have become even more valuable as time to sleep in a little (I get to wake up at 0720 rather than my usual 0600, or 0530 on days where I lift). This past weekend, after karate, I enjoyed the first dim sum of the year: their special included two different kinds of noodles as well as a flavourful salt-and-pepper fried squid.
- While Liz and the Blue Bird might deal predominantly with Nozomi and Mizore’s friendship, music is still very much a part of the narrative. During one practise, the band reaches the solo, and Mizore begins playing her part with such sincerity and emotion that it brings several of the band members to tears, including Nozomi. It is in this moment that Nozomi realises that she needs to allow Mizore to go free and pursue her future.
- In a manner of speaking, Mizore and Nozomi are simultaneously Liz and Blue Bird: both long to prolong a friendship with someone special, but both also need to let the other go for the future’s sake. Mizore’s performance shows that she is committed to her decision in enrolling in a music school, and understanding their gap, Nozomi ultimately decides to pursue studies at another institution. She is shown studying diligently for her entrance exams later on.
- While Hibike! Euphonium is ultimately simple in its themes and all the stronger for it, discussions surrounding this series is much more complex and involved than strictly necessary. Taking a step back and enjoying Hibike! Euphonium in a vacuum, I find a genuine series whose enjoyment comes from being able to empathise with the characters over time and gradually coming to root for them.
- The film’s climax occurs in the science room by the day’s last light; Mizore and Nozomi open up to one another about their feelings and intentions for the future. Much as how Nozomi envies Mizore’s skill with an oboe and how her musical talents will allow her to accomplish great things, Mizore is jealous of Nozomi’s ability to take charge, influence and get along with numerous people. They voice their dislikes about the other, and with their feelings out in the open, tearfully embrace.
- The sum of their understanding is mirrored in the environment, which takes on a warm glow as red and pink hues seep in, displacing the cooler and more distant yellows. Kyoto Animation excels at use of light and colour to convey emotions: they are particularly strong in using subtle details to complement the dialogue, and I find that understanding the choice of colours in a given scene contributes more substantially to one’s enjoyment of their works, rather than focusing on objects that end up being red herrings.
- I’ve lasted thirty screenshots without mentioning thus: the necks of Liz and the Blue Bird were never a visual distraction that some felt it to be. With this post, I’ve finally caught up with Hibike! Euphonium, and the next major instalment will be another film releasing in April 2019. Titled Oath’s Finale, it will deal with the national competition and return things to Kumiko’s perspective. Given release patterns for Hibike! Euphonium and my own habits, I anticipate that I’ll be able watch and write about Oath’s End somewhere this time next year – anyone who’s still around by then is clearly a champion.
Standing in sharp contrast with Hibike! Euphonium‘s televised run, Liz and the Blue Bird has a much simpler, flatter art style. Although environments are still gorgeously animated, the characters’ own conflicts take the forefront: the deliberate choice to create more subdued backgrounds is to place focus on the characters and their challenges, reducing emphasis on the world around them. The story of Liz and the Blue Bird itself is also distinctly animated: Kyoto Animation succeeds in bringing a water colour to life and creates a very compelling style that, while distinct from the events of Liz and the Blue Bird, also integrate elegantly into the story. The choice to use a different visual style than Hibike! Euphonium‘s exceptionally rich colours and details is not a strike against Liz and the Blue Bird; although they might look different, the characters retain their personalities in full. The end result is a very concise, slow-paced story of parting and its difficulties; music still has its focus, and perhaps because of this art style, the music of Liz and the Blue Bird‘s concert band movements also has a much more singular attention on the flute and oboe solos, in a parallel of how the film is about Mizore and Nozomi. Altogether, Liz and the Blue Bird is an enjoyable addition to Hibike! Euphonium; helmed by Naoko Yamada (who’d previously directed K-On! The Movie and Koe no Katachi), Liz and the Blue Bird shifts away from the politics of high school clubs as seen in Hibike! Euphonium and employs Yamada’s preference of returning things to the basics, crafting a story about the intricacies of interactions between individuals. Admittedly, I prefer this approach, as it is much more sincere and meaningful in exploring people; Yamada has succeeded in Liz and the Blue Bird with giving Mizore and Nozomi’s friendship a more tangible sense, making the film a different but welcome addition to Hibike! Euphonium.